The proposed anti-union laws in the UK are clear attacks against organised labour

Brandon Perry

Recently British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced his intention to introduce new anti-trade union and strike legislation.

The new law seeks to impose “minimum service levels” for key public sector jobs such as in education, healthcare and policing. This law follows a similar proposal from October by former Prime Minister Liz Truss attempting to introduce these so-called “minimum service levels” for public transport in the wake of the still ongoing rail workers’ strike and is more broadly a continuation of the Conservative Party’s long history of anti-union sentiment.

The RMT union led rail workers’ strike has been one of the biggest strikes in Britain in decades, arguably since the miners’ strike under Thatcher in the mid-1980s. The strike, which is rooted in demands for pay rises to cope with the rising cost of living, is significant not only in its scale but also in its impact.

The rail strike has shown the potential power of trade unions and how industrial action can bring a whole industry, and in turn the wider economy, to a halt. It is no wonder then that the Tories, who’s power was already precarious, have entered a state of fear and seek to mitigate the potential influence of further industrial action.

There has been widespread opposition to the proposed legislation on the basis that it is not as the Tories claim an attempt to keep essential industries running, but rather an unsubtle attempt to suppress organised labour.

The trade union movement has promised to oppose this legislation and continue to stand their ground, with Sharon Graham the General Secretary of Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest private sector union, stating “yet again the prime minster shows how completely out of touch he is… he promises to attack the very organisations that are fighting for workers and putting more money in their pockets… For Unite, this is very clear. We will not be intimidated by anti-trade union attacks.”

However, it is also worth noting that Ireland already has similar laws with relation to police officers and healthcare workers; and in fact, has even more restrictive anti-union legislature more broadly, rooted in the Industrial Relations Act 1990 which outlawed political and sympathetic strikes, and requires notice be given to employers before strikes and ultimately reducing a unions’ bargaining power.

The recent rail strikes in the UK have shown the potential power of unions, and in turn caused the Tories to go into a panic. The proposed anti-union laws are clear attacks against organised labour and an attempt to suppress the democratic right of workers to strike and protest.

It is a classic case of the Conservative Party siding with the rich and the business owners over the working-class, made all the worse as in this case as all this is rooted in rail workers wishing for their wages to keep up with the rising cost of living just so they can continue to get by.

Brandon Perry

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